The Georgia Supreme Court dealt another blow to Camden County’s spaceport plan when it denied the county’s request to stop the certification of Tuesday’s referendum in which voters roundly rejected the spaceport.
Camden County Probate Judge Robert C. Sweatt Jr. will certify the election as “required under law,” said Attorney Kellye Moore of Perry-based Walker, Hulbert, Gray & Moore, who is representing the judge.
Camden residents employed a little known provision of the Georgia Constitution to collect petition signatures and force the referendum. By a 3-1 margin voters decided to repeal the county’s right to purchase land for Spaceport Camden.
The county has spent more than seven years and $10 million to develop a spaceport to launch up to 12 small commercial rockets per year. To supporters it represents economic opportunity in burgeoning industry. To opponents it’s a boondoggle with risks ranging from the purchase of polluted land to rockets flying over nearby residents.
While the court rejected the request for emergency relief, that’s not necessarily the end of the county’s case. The court also affirmed that the underlying case does fall under its jurisdiction because it addresses issues involving unsettled principles of constitutional law.
And Camden on Tuesday filed a motion in the state Supreme Court of intent to appeal. The county is represented by its county attorney plus three attorneys from the Atlanta-based law firm Hall Booth Smith. Because he is a constitutional officer, the county is also required to pay for the Probate Judge’s attorney.
County Administrator Steve Howard and County Attorney John Myers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ga. Rep. Steven Sainz said he’s working to make sure the county’s appointment of members to its Camden Spaceport Authority does not result in an end run around voters. Sainz helped create the board legislatively in 2019 and no members were named to it until the county commission did so in a specially called meeting Friday, just days before the referendum.
“I’m confident that they set up the spaceport authority to have an option if they wanted to utilize it to purchase a property through a Spaceport Authority,” Sainz said.
He was supportive of the spaceport before he ran for the legislature.
“I thought it was a unique way to look at expanding our economic base,” he said. “I was the treasurer of the spaceport citizens group at that time. But after this vote especially and knowing that there could be something that I did as a local legislator to circumvent the voters, I thought I had to immediately remedy it.”
He is drafting local legislation that will sunset the Spaceport Authority and protect Camden voters. He expects it to be available late next week. Unlike general legislation, local legislation does not have to be passed by one chamber of the General Assembly by Monday’s “crossover day” deadline in order to be passed this session, he noted.
The Supreme Court’s order pleased spaceport opponents.
“No one knows the constitution like the Supreme Court of Georgia,” said Megan Desrosiers, executive director of One Hundred Miles. “Maybe now the Camden County Commissioners will let it go. What a relief.”
Resident Steve Weinkle has long criticized the project as offering too much risk for too little reward.
“The Spaceport Camden fiasco could have been avoided if the County Commissioners had listened to voters millions of dollars ago,” said Weinkle, who spearheaded an effort to stop the spaceport. “They had the responsibility to demonstrate that Spaceport Camden could be a true economic engine worth an investment. But they never had a business plan or budget. Instead, they relied on half-truths, exaggerations, and out-right deception to continue the project. Spending spiraled with no end in sight. In the process, they eroded the public trust that was already threadbare. I’m happy the spaceport misadventure is coming to an end soon so that Camden County can reach its true great potential.”
“Informed voters are a powerful weapon for democracy,” said Weinkle, who on Wednesday qualified as a candidate for Camden County Commission.